Sunday, January 5, 2003

A Practical Time Machine

In the history of civilization, importance has always been laid on the acquisition and retention of information. From the Great Alexandrian Library to the Library of Congress, we have, as a race, always had a propensity for keeping records. Until 1996, however, this was not true of the Internet.

Starting in 1996, the Internet Archive, working with Alexa Internet, has been keeping records of the Internet. In 2001, they created the Wayback Machine, a means by which the public can surf more than 10 billion pages stored in the Internet Archive's web archive.

The archive, consisting of 100 terabytes of data and growing at a rate of 12 terabytes per month, has 12 complete records of the Internet. The volume of data available for public viewing eclipses the amount of text contained in the Library of Congress – if you transfered the archive to floppy disk and lay the disks end to end, westward from New York, they would reach halfway across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii.

So, needless to say, we think the Wayback Machine is very cool.

Go check out the earliest incarnations of (and amaze at their first terrible logo and homepage). Check out's 9/11 breaking news page (which very few of us got to see on 9/11). Check out Enron or Authur Anderson's web pages (or even's progenitor, the Anderson Consulting site). There is no end to the historically fascinating pages available for view.

The Wayback machine's only downside: a tremendous number of pages available but lacking their linked images, which makes viewing or navigating these pages near impossible – though this inequity is no fault of the internet Archive.

So pick your favorite current of past URL and jump in. We guarantee you'll get addicted to the Internet all over again.

Let us know what you find. fb

How Many People Die While Your Site Loads?

I'm beginning to suspect that the fight against fat websites needs a mascot – a Smokey the Bear for web download times. I'm sure everyone reading this can sympathize with the pain of waiting...and waiting some more...for a website to download. Everyday, regardless of connection speed, we all wait for some websites to perform this most basic opperation.

But maybe a mascot isn't enough to convince the world's web developers to slim down their websites (though the idea of t-shirts emblazoned with an over-stuffed modem character crying "Only you can prevent fat websites" pleases me tremendously). Maybe we need to translate our download annoyance into something a little more quantifiable.

I recently had the opportunity to speak as a guest lecturer to a class at the Creative Circus, an Atlanta design school. I spoke to a web design class and, among other issues, I tried to stress the importance of slim web pages and optimized graphics.

Good web developers know how to build slim sites: Optimize, optimize, optimize. A website’s download speed can make or break it. Most graphics applications – Photoshop, ImageReady, Fireworks, GifBuilder – can optimize images down to an acceptable Web-ready level. And most web authoring programs, such as Dreamweaver, can trim the code of excess tags (though GoLive and most Microsoft editors are notorious for leaving excess or poorly written tags to clutter up the code).

There is no excuse for 50KB images and pages of extraneous HTML tags on your website. A lot of visitors will leave a site before the download is complete if the download takes too long (and don’t just consider download time on a T1 or DSL...think dial-up). Not convinced? Let this light a fire under you...

In 1999, John Shiple and Yong Yi developed the Death-to-Download Ratio (the D2D Ratio) in an article for Webmonkey. The D2D ratio is a function of the world's population, the global mortality rate, and the average time it takes for a given web page to download (including any task or process, such as registering for a site, buying products online, reading free email, etc.). The US Census Bureau defines the global-deaths-per-second (GDPS) rate, as of 1999, at around 1.7 deaths-per-second.

Some of the worst offenders* (sampled from Webmonkey and based on a 33.6-Kbps dial-up connection speed) are: - 38 deaths - 39 deaths - 45 deaths
*Results will vary based on connections speed
Certainly this a humorous (and slightly disturbing) way to consider the problem of download times and, while still a combination of connection speed and files size, there is only so much a web developer can do to remedy the problem.

Consider the D2D ratio next time you're waiting 5 minutes for to process your ticket order or for hotmail to do anything. The Death-to-Download ratio probably wouldn't work as well on a t-shirt as an over-stuffed modem character, but it does get the point across in a way we can all understand. fb

Volkswagen & Mr. Blue Sky

We've said it before and we'll say it again: TiVo rocks. And while the commercial advertisers of the world debate what to do to reach those of us using DVRs to watch our favorite programming, we'll just keep on scanning through commercial breaks.

Unless, of course, something catches our eye.

That's the trick with TiVo and other legal DVRs: You still have to see the commercials, even if you don't watch them. So when a commercial comes along that catches your eye you go back and watch it.

Such is the case with Volkswagen's most recent campaign, a pair of visually stunning commercials titled "Bubble" and "Chain Reaction" that promote the launch of the auto manufacturer's newest Beetle.

The commercials were executed by visual effects company A52 and director Mike Mills for Arnold Worldwide's new 2003 Beetle Convertible ad campaign for Volkswagen of America, Inc. Each ad features an elaborate interplay of music and imagery to get across the common theme of "escape."

The first spot, "Bubble," focuses on a young man’s mundane and isolated indoor existence. Expertly crafted scenes from his apartment, his cubicle, the escalator, the copier, and standing in the window of a skyscraper illustrate the passage of time and the persistence of his enclosure. To highlight the sense of bewildered entrapment, Electric Light Orchestra's "Mr. Blue Sky" scores the ad.

At the end of the spot, after a masterful scene of the young man walking through the office, time passing around him, the hero looks out the window of the building's flying walkway and sees, on the street below, a convertible top being lowered.

And perhaps the most surprising aspect of the commercial? The convertible top is all we see of the new Beetle.

"Chain Reaction" presents a series of square shapes, each appearing successively in place of one another. Square paper-towel dispensers, office buildings, crates, sandwiches, documents, disks...all leading up to the presentation of a nicely rounded VW Beetle.

What's the message here? Why did we stop our TiVo fast-forwarding between segments of another episode of "24" to watch a 50 second VW commercial? Simple: it was worth seeing, in-and-of-itself. The commercial was far more experiential and cinematic than your average "Chicken of the Sea" spot. "Mr. Blue Sky" didn't hurt, either.

So could the solution to Television advertising in the age of TiVo be as simple as making good commercials? God forbid. fb